Valdosta Daily Times

November 18, 2011

Widespread Panic donates $80,000 to Newbern Middle

David Rodock
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA —

VALDOSTA — Widespread Panic has had quite the relationship with Valdosta over the years.

During their meteoric rise to fame in the early ’90s, the band consistently chose Valdosta State University as a stopping point for its tours, until October 2000 when 23 fans were arrested on various charges. We haven’t seen the band here since.

Flash-forward a decade later and Panic is back — sort of.

Earlier this summer, Newbern Middle School Principal Dr. Janice Richardson and Band Director Curt Kimbrough received a call from Buck Williams, manager for the band.

Someone from the Valdosta community had forwarded Williams a copy of an article from The Valdosta Daily Times about a recent drive for citizens to donate old instruments to the middle school band program.

Williams told Kimbrough and Richardson about a program called Tunes for Tots which Panic has put on for the last several years to raise money for school music programs.

Known mostly for its energetic live performances, the Athens-based band has garnered a considerable fanbase over the past couple of decades which allows the members to bring in the kind of revenues required to pull off philanthropic programs like Tunes for Tots.

By combining a unique mixture of blues, funk, Southern rock and other musical influences, Widespread Panic has managed to continue a tradition started by bands such as the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers and which is carried on today by acts like Phish, who are notorious for endless tours across the country.

You probably won’t hear Panic on the radio or see them on MTV, but when there’s a show, you can almost  guarantee it will be sold-out.

Last week, the four piccolos that came in the mail were the final items for now. All said, the band donated more than $80,000 worth of new instruments, equipment and uniforms to the adolescents at Newbern Middle School.

Where the lockers in the band room were once half-full, they are now packed tight with new tubas, flutes, trumpets and saxophones. There are so many instruments that some are kept on top of the lockers. There are also new music stands, chairs, vibraphones, sousaphones and clarinets.

“It’s really a tremendous blessing; I’m still tickled about what they did for us,” said Kimbrough. “I’m proud to say that we have more than we need right now, but as the program continues to grow we can continue to supply the instruments that are needed.”

Officer manager for Widespread Panic Ellie McKnight said the Tunes for Tots program is the band’s idea that started in 2005. She estimates the program has raised more than $650,000 for school music programs.

Each year, Panic hosts a single show in which all proceeds go to the charity.

During the first few years of the program, multiple schools would split the money until it was recently decided to give all the money to one school to make the most impact.

By working closely with the Georgia Music Education Association, Newbern Middle School was identified as a program with a definite financial need and a strong director.

“All of the (Widespread Panic) band members played instruments in high school in different ways. Some played in garage bands; others were in high school marching bands,” said McKnight. “They just feel like a well-rounded person should have access to music education. They truly believe that.”

The instruments just happened to come in time for the huge influx of new sixth graders added to the program, which has doubled in the last year to about 114 total students today.

In an economically disadvantaged school like Newbern, where funding cuts are a reality, the money will equip the program for the future as well as for today.

“We’ve had some big budget cuts. I think it’s going on in the state and across the country,” said Richardson. “Art and music are oftentimes some of the first programs that are cut and my kids are definitely interested in music.

“This means a lot to us because it’s something else for those kids. This is something they are successful in and it’s something else for the kids that might struggle academically. It allows them to achieve some kind of success and gives them an escape. We’re trying to show these children that there are other career fields, so who knows? This might be where the next band member of Widespread Panic comes from!”

Kimbrough reluctantly admitted he had never heard of the band before the group made contact with him.

“Every kid in this band program knows who Widespread Panic is. They say, ‘that’s the band that helped our band program!’” said Kimbrough.

He’s quick to point out that administrators have always been receptive to funding requests, but certain items — like the $4,000 vibraphone, equaled about as much as his entire yearly budget.

Being with the program since it started in 1994, Kimbrough understands the importance of a music education and how it translates into other areas of study.

“There are so many ways that music benefits students, whether it’s math, science or language arts,” said Kimbrough. “I heard a statistic that 95 percent of inmates on death row had never had a music class. Music is so impactful. It’s a part of our lives, but most students hear it and never get a chance to study it. We study every nook and cranny including different styles and different forms.”

It also allows students to visit places they may have never seen before.

“I did not realize the number of kids who had not seen Turner Field or the state capitol,” said Kimbrough.

Musicians throughout history have often lived unconventional lives. When asked if he had to be cognizant of the complicated nature of musician’s personal lives when teaching students, Kimbrough said absolutely.

“These kids here at Newbern are part of the hip-hop generation,” said Kimbrough. “I try to teach the children that there are several of those musicians who are formally trained or are college educated. If you’re going to follow or emulate them, emulate the good stuff. Find out about the good and emulate the good.”

The first time he ever fell in love with music and realized that it was for him was back in the seventh grade when he heard the school band playing “Another One Bites the Dust,” by the famous British rock band Queen.

“Music has totally impacted my life,” said Kimbrough who ended up graduating with a master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music. “The fact that it’s allowed me to give back to these kids that if it were not for me, I don’t know if these kids would have gotten what they get — a quality music education. It’s kind of a service thing.”

Kimbrough eagerly anticipates an upcoming opportunity to show off their new instruments and their skills at the annual holiday performance on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center. He invites the public to attend.

And whether Widespread Panic will ever come back to Valdosta for another show, McKnight says, “There’s always a chance.”guarantee it will be sold-out.

Last week, the four piccolos that came in the mail were the final items for now. All said, the band donated more than $80,000 worth of new instruments, equipment and uniforms to the adolescents at Newbern Middle School.

Where the lockers in the band room were once half-full, they are now packed tight with new tubas, flutes, trumpets and saxophones. There are so many instruments that some are kept on top of the lockers. There are also new music stands, chairs, vibraphones, sousaphones and clarinets.

“It’s really a tremendous blessing; I’m still tickled about what they did for us,” said Kimbrough. “I’m proud to say that we have more than we need right now, but as the program continues to grow we can continue to supply the instruments that are needed.”

Officer manager for Widespread Panic Ellie McKnight said the Tunes for Tots program is the band’s idea that started in 2005. She estimates the program has raised more than $650,000 for school music programs.

Each year, Panic hosts a single show in which all proceeds go to the charity.

During the first few years of the program, multiple schools would split the money until it was recently decided to give all the money to one school to make the most impact.

By working closely with the Georgia Music Education Association, Newbern Middle School was identified as a program with a definite financial need and a strong director.

“All of the (Widespread Panic) band members played instruments in high school in different ways. Some played in garage bands; others were in high school marching bands,” said McKnight. “They just feel like a well-rounded person should have access to music education. They truly believe that.”

The instruments just happened to come in time for the huge influx of new sixth graders added to the program, which has doubled in the last year to about 114 total students today.

In an economically disadvantaged school like Newbern, where funding cuts are a reality, the money will equip the program for the future as well as for today.

“We’ve had some big budget cuts. I think it’s going on in the state and across the country,” said Richardson. “Art and music are oftentimes some of the first programs that are cut and my kids are definitely interested in music.

“This means a lot to us because it’s something else for those kids. This is something they are successful in and it’s something else for the kids that might struggle academically. It allows them to achieve some kind of success and gives them an escape. We’re trying to show these children that there are other career fields, so who knows? This might be where the next band member of Widespread Panic comes from!”

Kimbrough reluctantly admitted he had never heard of the band before the group made contact with him.

“Every kid in this band program knows who Widespread Panic is. They say, ‘that’s the band that helped our band program!’” said Kimbrough.

He’s quick to point out that administrators have always been receptive to funding requests, but certain items — like the $4,000 vibraphone, equaled about as much as his entire yearly budget.

Being with the program since it started in 1994, Kimbrough understands the importance of a music education and how it translates into other areas of study.

“There are so many ways that music benefits students, whether it’s math, science or language arts,” said Kimbrough. “I heard a statistic that 95 percent of inmates on death row had never had a music class. Music is so impactful. It’s a part of our lives, but most students hear it and never get a chance to study it. We study every nook and cranny including different styles and different forms.”

It also allows students to visit places they may have never seen before.

“I did not realize the number of kids who had not seen Turner Field or the state capitol,” said Kimbrough.

Musicians throughout history have often lived unconventional lives. When asked if he had to be cognizant of the complicated nature of musician’s personal lives when teaching students, Kimbrough said absolutely.

“These kids here at Newbern are part of the hip-hop generation,” said Kimbrough. “I try to teach the children that there are several of those musicians who are formally trained or are college educated. If you’re going to follow or emulate them, emulate the good stuff. Find out about the good and emulate the good.”

The first time he ever fell in love with music and realized that it was for him was back in the seventh grade when he heard the school band playing “Another One Bites the Dust,” by the famous British rock band Queen.

“Music has totally impacted my life,” said Kimbrough who ended up graduating with a master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music. “The fact that it’s allowed me to give back to these kids that if it were not for me, I don’t know if these kids would have gotten what they get — a quality music education. It’s kind of a service thing.”

Kimbrough eagerly anticipates an upcoming opportunity to show off their new instruments and their skills at the annual holiday performance on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center. He invites the public to attend.

And whether Widespread Panic will ever come back to Valdosta for another show, McKnight says, “There’s always a chance.”